The Isle of Man Government recently announced plans to build some number of wind turbines.
In coming days and weeks, some number of local residents are going to oppose construction of these wind farms. They are going to make various claims about the impact on the local environment and the impact on the local beauty of the area. I have no capacity to judge such specific claims, and I am not really in a position to evaluate the specific merits.
We could, however, mitigate the complaints of residents by requiring the consent of local communities, and by giving additional benefits to local communities which approved such developments.
Environmental Objections are Often Significant
When I ran for Tynwald some years ago, I sought the advice of an environmental scientist involved in the deployment of land-based wind turbines in the Republic of Ireland. Her view was that getting local approvals was such a hassle that the economics of land-based wind turbines just didn’t add up: overcoming objections from local residents was too expensive to make the things viable.
There is a relatively straight-forward way to overcome the problem of dispersed benefits and concentrated costs: offer to pay local residents to compensate them for their perceived loss of amenity, and allow the local community to vote.
After all, the local community immediately adjacent to such developments suffer much of the harm and costs – why should they not be compensated for such impacts? If you put a wind turbine in front of my home, I would want to be compensated for it! That’s not unreasonable!
Local community consent and local benefits
This principle can apply to more things than just wind turbines: requiring the consent of local residents would give residents across our entire community greater faith that such projects won’t be imposed on their favourite sites elsewhere in the island. It would be democratic. And paying local affected residents could turn local residents from a lobby group which opposed such development into a lobby group which actively courted such development.
This means that such things stop being a battle of win-lose, and would start being a battle of win-win, with the entire community winning.
Local votes aren’t expensive
I can imagine some people objecting to the cost of conducting local referenda on such issues. I doubt that the costs would be very large to conduct a postal ballot: Something in the order of 60p (plus printing) per voter to give all local voters a ballot paper, and roughly 60p per vote (many people won’t vote!) to pay for the return mail. In a local authority area of 5,000 residents, we’re not talking huge sums of money.
But if even this is too expensive for your liking, you could instead give local representatives (either local Councillors or MHKs) veto rights over the project. They’re elected to serve as our representatives in our democracy, and it is not unreasonable to use legislators in this fashion.